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Bicycle Friendly Communities

Every round of Bicycle Friendly Community applications seems to have its own story. The last couple of rounds, for example, have seen some really encouraging applications from a whole bunch of larger mid-western cities who are getting with the program – rather than the plethora of smaller western college-towns that dominated some of the earlier rounds. The emergence of communities with really strong mountain bike and off-road credentials enlivened the program beginning a couple of years ago.

We’ve just been poring over no fewer than 48 new and eight renewal applications from the latest round of contenders, which is actually a story unto itself as we continue to see a better than 20 percent annual growth in applicants. The issue that struck me is that for some reason this set of applicants included a lot of places that have been handed some great assets of which they honestly aren’t taking very good advantage. Without naming names – because a) you have to wait til the official announcement of the latest BFCs in a couple of weeks, and b) we don’t publish the list of unsuccessful applicants – we saw communities with perfect year-round weather, well-educated and wealthy populations, large student populations, and relatively dense land use patterns (sometimes several of these attributes). Santa Barbara, Calif. ; Davis, Calif.; and Boulder, Colo. are examples of BFCs that are really taking advantage of these kinds of assets.

We heard from places with well-established and extensive bikeway networks; all manner of great rides and events; pancake-flat terrain; and even some with already high (by US standards) levels of bike use…and yet I found myself wondering why two or three times more people weren’t out riding in these places. They could be SO much better.

Fortunately, one of the other great storylines from the BFC program is that communities are generally hungry for the feedback we give them – regardless of whether they get an award of some kind or not. So I expect that the feedback to a lot of places this time around will be along the lines of “look around you, see how good you’ve got it, let’s figure out how to step up and take advantage of these things”, so that a year or two from now I’ll be writing “wow, look at all these gold and platinum level communities.”

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